04/01/15 2:17pm
04/01/2015 2:17 PM
Governor Cuomo giving his State of the State address the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany Jan. 21. (Credit: Courtesy Flickr photo)

Governor Cuomo giving his State of the State address the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany Jan. 21. (Credit: Courtesy Flickr photo)

New York State’s adopted budget for 2015-16 includes increases in school aid for all of the districts in Riverhead and Southold towns.

The budget increases school aid by 6.2 percent statewide.  (more…)

02/11/15 12:00pm
02/11/2015 12:00 PM
Riverhead school board member Lori Hulse pitches the need to limit the kinds of contracts the district superintendent can sign without board approval at a board meeting Tuesday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Riverhead school board member Lori Hulse pitches the need to limit the kinds of contracts the district superintendent can sign without board approval at a board meeting Tuesday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)

The Riverhead school board voted to limit the kinds of contracts Superintendent Nancy Carney can sign without needing board authorization, arguing that it protects taxpayers and adds extra oversight to limit mistakes.

The superintendent had been able to sign off on contracts under $25,000 without board approval. That limit was decreased to $10,000 or less. (more…)

09/12/14 12:00pm
09/12/2014 12:00 PM
Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate (center) with Estabon, 16, and Pedro, 14, and their mother Marta in July. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate (center) with Estabon, 16, and Pedro, 14, and their mother Marta in July. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

As young immigrants known as “border children” continue to reunite with families in Riverhead, the school district is reporting an influx of non-English-speaking students — and is unable to find the necessary personnel to accommodate their growing numbers.

Through July of this year, 4,244 “border children” have ended up in New York State, many fleeing their violence-plagued homelands in Central America, according to data released by the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ office of refugee resettlement.  (more…)

08/28/13 5:00pm
08/28/2013 5:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | School board vice president Greg Meyer (from left), Superintendent Nancy Carney and board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse voting on resolutions during Tuesday night’s board meeting, at which Ms. Carney spoke at length about more planned construction work for the high school.

Repairs at Riverhead High School costing $1.7 million, which were identified by a community-based committee, were approved at this week’s school board meeting and will get underway alongside other school construction projects currently in progress.

Superintendent Nancy Carney gave a presentation at Tuesday night’s meeting on using the district’s repair-reserve fund for various upgrades at the high school, including replacement of lighting and crumbling concrete in the back plaza courtyard, repair of the south and student parking lots and replacement of a damaged ceiling and lighting in the cafeteria.

Ms. Carney said the needed repairs were identified by the district’s Community Partnership for Revitalization Committee, known as CPR. The volunteer group, made up of district residents and employees, was asked to revise an infrastructure upgrade plan after the district’s proposed bond project was overwhelmingly defeated in 2010. Residents ultimately approved both a scaled-down $78.3 million capital improvement bond project in 2011 and a referendum to establish a repair-reserve fund of up to $5 million to pay for infrastructure upgrades. Capital improvement projects included in the voter-approved bond proposal — such as a new roof, windows, ventilation and electrical systems, science classrooms and additional music and art space — were identified by the CPR committee as a “priority,” and are included in the work through the bond, Ms. Carney said.

The bond project also includes installing a new gym floor and new bleachers, a new auditorium and renovating classrooms to replace the high school’s portable classrooms.

A third “wish list” was created that included items like a turf athletic field, she added.

“In order to have the best buying power and minimize the costs, we had these [secondary] repairs built into the [bond proposal] bidding process as alternates,” Ms. Carney said before the meeting.

Following Ms. Carney’s presentation, the school board closed the public hearing and voted 6-0 to approve the $1.7 million repair-reserve fund expenditure. School board member Amelia Lantz was absent.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Calverton resident Sal Mastropaolo criticized the school board for voting on the resolution the same night as the public hearing because he believes it doesn’t give the public a fair chance to weigh in on the proposal. He suggested the school board leave the public hearing open for two weeks to allow for written comments.

“There’s only six or eight of us here,” he said, “but yet there are maybe several hundred watching Channel 22 when the meeting comes up.”

Ms. Carney said the school board has the authority to vote on a measure after closing a public hearing.

In addition to discussing work at the high school, the school board approved a change order to replace solar panel and wind power plans from its energy performance contract. The energy performance contract is separate from the bond proposal and repair-reserve fund.

The photovoltaic project had been planned for the high school, middle school and Aquebogue, Phillips Avenue and Riley Avenue elementary schools. The estimated cost per school was $50,000, according to school documents. Also in the plan was a $12,000 wind power generation project at the high school.

The school board agreed Tuesday night to swap out the solar and wind proposals for two walk-in refrigerators at the high school to replace models purchased in the 1970s, and for LED lighting projects at Phillips Avenue and Riley Avenue elementary schools.

According to the school board meeting’s agenda, the solar panel project was canceled due to “capital construction project roof work overlap” and the wind project was removed because the manufacturer is “no longer in business.”

School board president Greg Meyer said the decision to pull the solar panel project from the plan was made in part because of a “timeframe” conflict.

“It’s not like we’re scrapping them,” he said. “Our energy performance contract requires the solar panels be in at a certain time and with our new roofs going in we won’t be able to meet that part of the contract.”

Ms. Carney said after the meeting that the district is looking at its alternative energy options and companies have approached the district about different solar energy projects. Those proposals will be presented to the school board at a future meeting, she said.

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04/25/13 12:00pm
Carney of Riverhead

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Superintendent Nancy Carney and board president Anne Cotten-DeGrasse at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Riverhead school officials denied allegations this week of misusing the district’s electronic record-keeping software to influence voter turnout during budget votes.

According to Newsday, the state education department is investigating more than 60 Long Island school districts that use software from Bold Systems, a Bellport company that allegedly claims the product can be used to influence voter turnout during budget votes. According to the Newsday report, the company has said the software can “track voter turnout in real time, and gives districts the ability to generate call lists of key voting blocs.”

State election laws prohibit public entities, like school districts, from influencing voter turnout in this manner, although some school officials quoted in the Newsday report deny using the program in that way.

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney stated Tuesday the district hasn’t used the software to influence budget votes and has not been notified that the district is under investigation.

“We never used this software in any way, shape or form for electioneering,” she said.

The district is required to keep its own records of its 24,000 registered voters, and Bold Systems’ software allows it to organize the records electronically, she said. The electronic database gets registered voter information from both the Suffolk County Board of Elections and the district’s Board of Registration, which is headed by district clerk Barbara O’Kula, she said. The data is then put into a web-based browser, and the district uses the information to sign voters in on election day. The process enforces the “rule of one person, one vote,” Ms. Carney said.

The district bought rights to the Bold software in the fall of 2008 through a shared-service contract with BOCES, and the system has been in place since the May 2009 election, she said.

Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen said that district is not among the 60 Long Island districts Newsday says uses the software. Shoreham, with about 9,000 voters, gets a list from the Suffolk County Board of Elections of everyone in the district who’s registered to vote in Suffolk County, district clerk Janice Seus later explained. The district keeps a separate book for people registered to vote in the school district but not in the county, she said.

“It’s a little cumbersome and it’s a little bit of work, but I don’t mind doing it,” Ms. Seus said, adding that the Bold software was prohibitively expensive, so they stuck with the old system. “I’d rather do the work than have us spend the $20,000.”

Ms. Carney said the Riverhead district uses the program “one day per year” for the school budget vote. Instead of using the system to mail election notices to voters, Ms. Carney said the district mails them to all addresses within the district.

Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse told the News-Review in an interview this week that she supports the software because of its efficiency. She said that throughout her 32 years of teaching and her past experience as a teachers union president, there have always been concerns about the paper method of tracking voter records.

“On the day of the election, there would be three tables filed with voting records,” she said. “It was a real mess.”

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse also denied the district has been involved in any illegal actions.

“To my knowledge, the school district has never used that system to call people and try to influence how the election goes,” she said.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday night’s Riverhead school board meeting, local resident and school board watchdog Laurie Downs discussed her concern about the software’s legality.

“You’re giving me the impression that you’re doing something illegal,” Ms. Downs said. “After all, you took an unpopular budget and an unpopular bond and it passed.”

Her exchange with the school board became heated when she took exception to board vice president Greg Meyer’s body language during her remarks.

Mr. Meyer responded, “You do great things for us, but when you stand here and say you don’t trust us, that bothers me. That’s why I’m shrugging my shoulders.”

The back-and-forth resulted in Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s slamming her gavel and calling for order. Ms. Downs ended her comments by saying she planned to contact Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota Wednesday morning.

After the meeting adjourned, the argument continued when Ms. Downs approached Mr. Meyer. It ended with him telling her, “Call Mr. Spota in the morning.”

“I invite him down,” Mr. Meyer said.

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with Paul Squire